The proposed Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) is feared by heritage advocates to be Metro Manila’s next big photobomber – a 19.4-kilometer concrete dent in the already patchy landscape of the metropolis.
In an illustration on Twitter, architect and urban planner Paulo Alcazaren showed how PAREX’s first segment alone would affect several significant heritage sites in the metro, including a number of structures that are part of the historic walled city of Intramuros – the Aduana Building, the Maestranza Walls, and Fort Santiago.
The drawing also showed how construction of the expressway would affect the Rizal Shrine, Arroceros Forest Park, the Manila Post Office, Quezon Bridge, and Jones Bridge.
Aside from these sites being protected by Republic Act No. 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, Alcazaren pointed out that any project would have to get clearance from a number of government institutions across various local government units.
“All of these structures are protected,” Alcazaren told Rappler.
Ramon Ang, president of PAREX proponent San Miguel Corporation, denied that the expressway would affect heritage sites. He said that contrary to social media posts, “PAREX will not run on the Intramuros side, but on the other side, along Binondo.”
“By placing the alignment on the other side, we can avoid any significant impact on Intramuros, and actually use the PAREX to showcase our heritage sites to users, including tourists. The area will also become more accessible to more Filipinos, via the planned Bus Rapid Transit system,” he said, as quoted on ABS-CBN.
However, Alcazaren said that even if built on the other side, there are still heritage sites that will be affected.
“Even if [PAREX] were on the other side, the river at that point is only 100 or [fewer] meters wide. That means, even at the other side, okay it may be protected from the heritage buildings that I just pointed out…but you have the heritage building of El Hogar and the First National City Bank on the other side. Either side you take, it will compromise half a dozen [heritage sites], at least,” he said.
The destruction of even one heritage building, he stressed, is already a loss: “A single heritage building once demolished; that’s lost forever.”
‘The cradle of Tagalog civilization’
Alcazaren pointed out that the river itself is full of history, once the only method of moving goods in and around Manila.
“Without the Pasig River, Manila could not have developed. The Pasig River was our skyway before. The only method of moving goods and people until the late 19th century was really by water,” Alcazaren said.
Heritage advocacy group Renacimiento Manila even described the river as “the cradle of Tagalog civilization.”
“Long before the arrival of the Spaniards, communities had already established themselves near the mouth of the river, belonging to the barangays of Rajah Sulayman and Rajah Lakandula,” they said in a feature on their website for World Rivers Day on September 26.
In the same release, they listed down some 40 architecturally significant structures along the Pasig River.
In addition to the sites already mentioned by Alcazaren, Renacimiento Manila mentioned the Lichauco House, which was built in the mid-1800s and served as a refuge for Manilenyos during the World War II; a number of buildings along Escolta; the Goldenberg Mansion, which was built in the 19th century and became the site of the country’s first senate session in 1916; and the Coronado House – one of the last few Spanish-era houses still standing in Makati.
“The project may put at risk of destruction and diminish the significance of these heritage resources. This elevated expressway will reshape the landscape and rob the Tagalogs (taga-ilog) of their cultural identity, which is a constitutional right,” Renacimiento Manila said.
‘A city without a past’
Why is heritage conservation so important? For one, Alcazaren said it has a positive impact on tourism, as seen in cities like Vigan, Ilocos Sur, and Singapore.
Alcazaren, who worked for the Singapore government for two years on the city-state’s conservation areas, explained that in the early 1980s, Singapore’s tourism income started to go down, with visitors deciding not to come “because a lot of Singapore was being demolished.”
“So the government did a 180 and set up Singapore-style conservation areas…and that is what brings people to Singapore; it’s the juxtaposition of the old and the new; that’s why you go there. Without that, and if it’s all just buildings, if you get there and it’s just the same as San Francisco and New York, why do you come halfway across the world to visit something in your own backyard?” he said.
With heritage conservation, Metro Manila has the same tourism potential.
Less measurable but perhaps more deeply affecting is the impact of heritage on a people’s identity.
“If we erase our heritage and history, we are a city without a past. We have no anchor to anything, and therefore it does not help us develop any sense of place or belonging,” Alcazaren said. “So if we do that as a general policy of government for the rest of the country, then we are a nation without a past, a nation without a heritage, and therefore – if you want to wax poetic – a nation without a soul.” – Rappler.com